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From the first igniting of a flame to the ingenuity behind the creation of LEDs, the evolution of lighting has been nothing short of remarkable. We have seen a lot of growth and changes in the light industry that are important to recognize and consider as we look into the future of what could be next in the advancement of lighting. The way we choose to light our homes, workplaces, and the outdoors will play a role in sustainability and energy efficiency. Let’s look at many of the different ways we have chosen to illuminate the areas around us and how lighting could change and advance in the near future.
To understand where we are headed in the future of lighting, it is important to look at where we have been. In 1879, Thomas Edison invented a revolutionary lighting technology, the incandescent bulb. The incandescent bulb brought a much safer and more efficient alternative than existing sources like fire torches and candles. The bulb not only brought light into homes, but it was also a small form of heat as most of the energy in incandescent bulbs is emitted as heat. More importantly, it sparked a revolutionary shift in lighting technology, ushering in an era of ingenuity and innovation unlike anything witnessed before.
The incandescent light, which at one time was the pinnacle of lightning technology, has been reduced to use only in homes and decorative lamps. Although revolutionary at one time, these bulbs, in today’s terms, are highly inefficient. With an incandescent bulb, only 2% of the energy emitted is in the form of usable, visible light. The other 98% is wasted heat. This is the main cause of the decline of incandescent.
Even though incandescent bulbs are very inefficient, they have been extremely popular in residential lighting. One of the main reasons is their color rendering. An incandescent bulb displays colors more naturally and accurately compared to alternative options. Another leading factor in the popularity of the incandescent bulb is the price. An average A19 incandescent bulb, a typical household bulb, could be as inexpensive as $0.75. However, with the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) in full effect, which requires a minimum efficiency of 45 lumens per watt, the sale of current A19 incandescent lights has come to an end as they still need to meet Federal requirements. There have been multiple advancements since the incandescent bulb, such as halogen and CFLs, but we will move forward with LEDs.
The first infra-red LED was created in 1961 when Robert Biard and Gary Pittman worked at Texas Instruments. Unfortunately, the LED had no practical use because it was invisible to the human eye. Fast forward a year and Nick Holonyak Jr. invented the first LED that produced a visible red light. This was a great advancement, but it was still early in the LED phase.
The industry-changing advancement came when George Craford of the Monsanto company used two gallium phosphide chips. Together, these emitted a pale yellow light and created an LED that was ten times brighter than Holonyak’s version. Craford’s invention would allow Monsanto to be the first company to produce LED lights on a large scale for mass consumption.
Another influential company in the LED market was Nichia, which developed high-brightness blue LEDs to make the production of white LEDs possible. This Japanese company is credited with being the first to commercialize the LED light due to its creation of the white LED light.
The commercial success of the white LED was mainly driven by its energy efficiency capabilities, reliability, and extended lifespan. These factors are why, over time, LED has become the desired choice for many applications, including lighting, signage, electronic displays, and automotive lighting. Today’s LEDs are six to seven times more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs and use an impressive 80 percent less energy. These LEDS can also last up to 25 times as long as their incandescent counterparts, making LEDs the most cost-efficient for installation on a large scale – such as for commercial and industrial facilities.
Prior to the rise of LEDs, compact fluorescent lights were very popular. These lights are more efficient and an overall better option than incandescent lights. However, compact fluorescents typically range in the 15,000 -to -20,000-hour range for lifespan, whereas the standard LED provides anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 hours. So naturally, the lighting industry made the switch from compact fluorescent technology to LED because of its longevity and ability to improve efficiency. LEDs provide more light out of a smaller package with less wattage consumed.
Today’s LEDs are somewhere between 150 and 200 lumens per watt, so the energy-saving technology and quality of light have improved drastically. LED has advanced to being applied in television screens, microchips, screens for computers, and other types of technology that require smaller, more compact lighting. Its versatility has made it useful in other ways than just the traditional lighting fixture.
OLED technology, Organic Light Emitting Diode, is another advancement in the lighting industry that has begun to establish itself as a popular choice in entertainment lighting. The OLED emits light when an electric current passes through the organic compounds that make it up. The advantages of OLED over normal LEDs are that OLEDs are thin and flexible in design.
This allows for the creation of slim, lightweight light panels. These light panels generally have a long operational life, maintaining their brightness and performance for tens of thousands of hours. Another benefit of OLED is that it provides high-quality illumination with great color reproduction. These traits are what make OLED lights perfect for products like smartphones, televisions, tablets, and even wearable devices.
One of the recent advancements in LEDs that is becoming more common is the ability to dim the light below 10 percent. There are several advantages to being able to use this technology, and the primary advantage is energy efficiency. Dimming LEDs reduces the amount of electricity consumed, resulting in energy savings. Additionally, the lifespan of the LED is increased when it has the ability to be dimmed.
When an LED is used at a lower level, it reduces the stress on the light, which increases its overall longevity. Another advantage of dimmable LEDs is the flexibility to create various lighting ambiance. Dimmable light can create a calm and relaxing environment, which can be beneficial in hospitals or retail stores.
Overall, the progress in LED control and dimmable lighting has transformed the way we interact with and utilize light. From energy-efficient settings to dimmability and color customization controls, the advancements in LEDs not only enhance user’s experience but also contribute to reducing energy consumption while promoting sustainable lighting solutions.
The initial cost to install LEDs is more expensive than compact fluorescent or other options, but companies are making the transitions because of the long-term benefits. Today, some of the highest quality LEDs can have a lifespan between 100,000 and 125,00 hours of operating time with an L30 depreciation. This means that over the life of the LED light, it will depreciate light output by about 30 percent. With LED technology, we are able to replace fluorescent lights and reduce the amount of wattage by 60 to 70 percent. This creates a return on investment when purchasing a new lighting system in the 25 to 40 percent range. This investment can produce a simple payback in the two-to-four-year range on average.
An overall commercial or industrial LED lighting program can yield a 20 to 50 percent return on investment, which can be unheard of with other types of energy efficiency projects. Most commercial companies, whether it’s retail or industrial warehousing, invest their capital in their buildings and are looking for that two-to-four-year investment return.
Regarding LEDs, future advancements will be centered around greater control and customization of the lights. Examples of new advancements in LED controls are the recently developed smart dimming capabilities like smart lighting systems that can be programmed to adjust the lighting based on the time of day. Another advancement in dimmable lighting is technology capable of turning off or dimming LED lights based on the number of people in the space. This new LED control technology helps organizations become more energy efficient, helps them save more money, and allows full customization of their lighting systems.
TUNABLE LED. Tunable LED lighting technology is an exciting control systems advancement that can change the color output of the light within a specific range. Unlike traditional LEDs that only emit a fixed color light, tunable LEDs allow customers to adjust temperature and overall intensity to create different lighting moods and environments.
There are three types of tunable LED lights – dim-to-warm, white-tunable, and full-color tunable. Dim-to-warm lights are extremely popular in restaurants and residential spacing because they mimic the behavior of a traditional incandescent bulb emitting a warm amber color as they are dimmed. White-tunable light studies show that the color and intensity of white light can be modified better to focus students’ attention in a classroom setting.
Some school’s special education programs have started using white-tunable lights to help give teachers more operational oversight over the learning environment. New controllable technology like this gives us insight in what to expect in the future as LED technology continues to grow and change.
LI-FI. Another recent technological advancement in lighting is Light Fidelity (LiFi) technology. Li-Fi technology uses light to transmit data. The concept is similar to wi-fi, but Li-Fi has several additional advantages. Li-Fi has higher data transfer speeds and uses LED bulbs serving the dual purpose of light and data communication, reducing overall energy consumption. Li-Fi is also said to be more secure because the light signals are confined within the boundaries of a specific area.
As with every great advancement, Li-Fi has its disadvantages and limitations. The most notable is the line-of-sight limitation because light can’t pass through obstacles like walls or opaque objects, restricting its range and coverage. It is likely that this limitation among others will hinder the commercialization of Li-Fi technology, keeping it to very specific applications. Regardless of the outcome, it is still an exciting advancement in the industry.
LASER DIODES. A relatively new development in lighting is laser diodes, which produce light by releasing energy in the form of photons. The way laser diodes work and the way LEDs work is very similar, with the difference being laser diodes emit coherent light, and LEDs emit incoherent light.
Laser diodes, physically, are much smaller than LEDs but can produce much more light. “Laser diodes can produce up to 1,000 times as much light for 2/3 of the energy, which means that it is even possible to light a complete house using only one laser diode,” said Steve DenBaars, a researcher at the University of California Santa Barbra. The earliest adaptations have been in automotive headlights. BMW has used laser diode headlights in their i8 hybrid vehicle. The new headlights provide greater visibility and range than traditional headlights. Laser diodes are an exciting upgrade in lighting but are far from commercialization and, like Li-Fi, may only ever be used in specific applications like car headlights.
Developments like OLED, Li-Fi, and laser diodes demonstrate the ever-present potential for new and enhanced technology and lighting systems that could eventually be universally used. However, in the foreseeable future, LED lights and their continued system advancements appear to be leading the way in lighting technology.
LEDs have already proven to be highly energy efficient, versatile, and long-lasting, revolutionizing the lighting industry. Ongoing improvements to LED technology, including increased efficiency, better color rendering, upgraded dimming abilities, and enhanced control capabilities – like color tuning are driving its widespread adoption in the lighting market. Digital controls and smart technology allow LEDs to be run remotely through apps, giving customers new control that can reduce energy consumption and enhance convenience. Even with potential new inventions, it is clear that LEDs will continue to play a pivotal role in illuminating our world in the near term.
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Jim Dore is the Vice President of Service Solutions and leads the business development team at Chateau Energy Solutions. He has 25 years of experience in consulting, designing, selling, and funding energy efficiency and electric vehicle infrastructure projects and programs. Jim has been directly involved with more than $125 million in energy-efficient turn-key projects throughout his career. His experience, deep industry knowledge, and relationships keep Jim at the forefront of emerging energy technology and program funding solutions. Contact Jim on LinkedIn.
Mason Lassiter is a dynamic Marketing Associate with a passion for creativity and a relentless drive for results. He is an Atlanta native and a graduate of the University of South Carolina with a communications degree in Public Relations. As part of the Chateau Energy Solutions team, Mason’s mission is to craft compelling marketing strategies that captivate audiences and drive business growth. Beyond the office, Mason enjoys golfing, personal fitness, and attending any Atlanta sports team’s game. Contact Mason on LinkedIn.
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